Top Labor Party officials are considering ousting Shimon Peres as party leader because of Labor's poor showing in parliamentary elections, party sources and published reports said Thursday.
Five Israeli newspapers and Israel radio said as many as five ranking leaders in the left-leaning party have discussed a party shake-up in private consultations.A party official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the reports and said Peres was under fire primarily for spearheading a campaign which focused too closely on his own personality and the need for an international peace conference.
Shlomo Avineri, a political scientist and Labor activist, also confirmed the criticism of Peres. If the party doesn't head Israel's next government, "there is going to be a groundswell in Labor to get rid of Peres," Avineri said in a telephone interview.
An aide to a Labor minister who demanded anonymity said: "There are voices in the party that believe the time has come for Peres to go."
But Peres aide Yossi Beilin, who is also a newly elected legislator, denied that Peres' leadership is threatened.
"Certainly there is disappointment after the elections and some soul-searching," Beilin told Israel Television. "I don't think there is any challenge to Peres' leadership. We have no other leader."
Peres has led the party through four elections, losing three times and managing a tie in the 1984 parliament balloting. Some party members believe he has acquired a loser's image as a result.
Election results gave Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of the right-wing Likud bloc, which outscored Labor 39 seats to 38, a clear advantage in getting a majority of 61 seats in Israel's 120-seat Knesset, or parliament.
Likud and parties to the right won 46 seats, while Labor and parties to the left won 48. The Orthodox religious parties won 18 seats, and have indicated a greater willingness to join a Likud government than one formed by Labor.
Fueling the anti-Peres atmosphere was a report in the independent Hadashot daily that Shamir would consider forming a joint government with Labor only if Peres and his deputy, Cabinet Minister Ezer Weizman, are replaced.
However, another Labor official said arranging a reshuffle and overcoming Peres' expected resistance would take too long and not be concluded before Likud built a coalition on its own.
News reports have suggested Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin could replace Peres. Rabin, who served as prime minister from 1974-77, is more popular among right-wing Israelis because of his tough policies in suppressing the 11-month-old Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories.